The 11th Meeting of Partners of the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) and the situation of birds on the Korean Peninsula

The 11th Meeting of Partners of the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) took place in Brisbane, Australia, from March 12-17. The Korean Peninsula is centered in the middle of the flyway, where annually around 50 million birds migrate, and is adjacent to the Yellow Sea, the most important hotspot of the flyway. The EAAFP was founded in 2007 to better protect birds along the whole flyway, which reaches from Australia and New Zealand to Russia and Alaska. The partnership consists of 18 government members, among them South and North Korea, but also China, Japan, Russia and the USA, as well as NGO members, among them since 2017 Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea. The South Korean government is represented as well by representatives of the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries and its agencies – this time by a very good delegation from the Korea Marine Management Corporation – as by the Ministry of Environment, which also was present. Additionally, researchers and NGO representatives from Korea were at the MOP, among them Donguk Han from Eco Korea and Kisup Lee of the International Crane Foundation. Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea was represented by Bernhard Seliger and Hyun-Ah Choi, both also lifetime members of Birds Korea. Unfortunately, due to the Covid pandemic, this time North Korea was not represented at the MOP.

The meeting discussed issues pertinent to the whole flyway, like the impact of Avian influenza, illegal hunting, or the role and form of CEPA (Communication, Education, Public Awareness) activities, ways to improve the monitoring of waterbirds in the flyway etc. There were updates on many species. While we still see a decline of waterbirds in the flyway, the rapid decline of the past two decades could be stopped, and for some species it can be hoped that their populations bottomed-out, and for others – like the Black-faced Spoonbill, the White-naped Crane and the Red-crowned Crane, there seem to be clearly positive population trends. This shows that the activities of governments and NGO along the coastal flyways to protect birds better had some positive impact, though much remains to be done. Of particular interest for Korea was the pre-meeting of the Yellow Sea Task Force, headed by Bruce McKinlay from New Zealand. The continuation of the work and the improvement of communication among members in the task force were agreed upon. In a side event, Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea on the sidelines of the MOP brought together resource persons and representatives of the Yellow Sea Working Group to discuss the future of bird protection in the Yellow Sea. The Yellow Sea working group, which brought together the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Ramsar Regional Center (RRC), and the EAAFP secretariat with partners like Hanns-Seidel-Foundation and representatives of the three governments of PR China, South Korea and North Korea, emerged in 2017 and held before the pandemic several meetings to coordinate efforts to protect tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea. Now, it is important to regain dynamics in this partnership. Raphael Glémet of IUCN Asia-Pacific office explained the emergence and task of the working group. Bruce McKinlay, head of the Yellow Sea task force under the EAAFP, which brings together specialists, NGO, and technical experts, explained how the task force can reinforce the work of the working group. Both presentations were brought together by the ideas of Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the protection of birds: Yellow Sea Working group, mainly geared at bringing together the governments of bordering states of the Yellow Sea, together with the Yellow Sea task force, providing technical and expert advice, can together represent protection initiatives, also vis-à-vis the new, important World Coastal Forum, as focal points for Yellow Sea environmental governance. Seung Oh Suh, head of the Ramsar Regional Center East Asia, one of the steering organizations of the working group, proposed ways how to improve capacity-building for government officials in the Yellow Sea area. Bernhard Seliger of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation, who moderated the session, recalled the history of DPRK involvement and the difficulties to keep up connections in the time of pandemic and North Korea´s self-isolation. Members of governments and the NGO community looked into the work of the governments of China (Lu Cai of Beijing Forestry University and the EAAFP science unit) and South Korea (Gusung Lee of KOEM) and on the ground (Donguk Han with a lovely presentation of the unification map of Swan Geese in Korea).

Other important working groups included the Shorebird working group meetings and the pre-meeting of the seabird working group. Hanns-Seidel-Foundation agreed to hold a training with the Seabird working group in Korea later this year or next year. For the birds on the EAAF and in particular in the Yellow Sea area, there remain many challenges. EAAFP is one way to foster a community of like-minded people in government, academia and the civil society to work for the better protection of birds in the flyway. For this, outgoing EAAFP CEO Doug Watkins, as well as senior officers Vivian Fu and Hyeseon Do, worked tirelessly, together with the Australasian Wader Studies Group and many others to make the EAAFP MOP a valuable and fruitful event. It also was for most attendees the first time after three years of pandemic to meet again and discuss further cooperation. Grave challenges lie before the EAAFP. Not the least is the question if the generous support of the central government and in particular city government of Incheon will continue into the future. The EAAFP secretariat in Songdo has become an important and widely recognized actor in environmental issues in Korea and far beyond. Hopefully, this will continue into the future…

The 11th Meeting of Partners of the East Asian Australasian Flyway took place March 12-17 in Brisbane, Australia.
Participants of the 11th Meeting of Partners of the EAAFP
The Yellow Sea Working Group side event was brought together by Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea.
Information table of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea with Hyun-Ah Choi and Bernhard Seliger, both also lifetime members of Birds Korea
Work in the plenary was tedious, but ultimately successful
The biodiversity of the Brisbane area is incredible – here are some birds of the mangrove forests of Wynnum wetland. In this picture: Great egret Ardea alba, Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia, White-faced heron Egretta novahollandiae and Australasian ibises Threskiornis molucca…(© Bernhard Seliger)
An Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus (© Bernhard Seliger)
A Caspian tern Hydroprogne caspia. While many birds of Australia are endemic, others like this one are shared birds of the flyway, which depend on a protection of roosting and feed sides along the flyway. (© Bernhard Seliger)

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